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‘Ricki and the Flash’ needs less drama and more rock & roll

‘Ricki and the Flash’ needs less drama and more rock & roll

ricki and the flash 2015

Ricki and the Flash
Written by Diablo Cody
Directed by Jonathan Demme
U.S., 2015

Jonathan Demme must enjoy weddings. His last theatrical endeavor, Rachel Getting Married, focused on the chaos one family is thrown into after a daughter returns home for rehab for her sister’s wedding. Ricki and the Flash takes the same fractured family dynamic, but the wrecking ball this time is mom. Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep), left her husband and three kids behind when she decided to chase her dreams to be a musician years ago. Flash forward a couple of decades and Ricki’s life hasn’t matched up with her dreams.

Along with her local bar band, The Flash, Ricki performs covers of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and U2. Has-beens have had bigger career moments, so it would be more accurate to say that Ricki is a never-was, still bagging groceries during the light of day. It didn’t work out for her, but Ricki’s ego can take it, and it’s obvious she just really loves playing music. Ricki (formerly Linda) seems content to stay with her lead guitar player, Greg (Rick Springfield), jamming at bars until the end of time, but her daughter’s nervous breakdown brings Ricki home to Indiana.

Julie (Streep’s real life daughter, Mamie Gummer) is reeling from a bad divorce and a suicide attempt. The family is rallying together around Julie in her time of need, but a sudden reunion with her absent mother isn’t exactly welcomed. The film reveals this by having Julie scream at both her parents “Julie isn’t looking forward to shit!” After Ricki took off years ago, there are expectedly unresolved feelings lingering among those she left behind in Indiana. It’s obvious why Ricki clashed with ex-husband Peter (Kevin Kline). He is a successful business man with a nicely decorated mansion and a regimented day-to-day schedule, which contrasts with a rock and roll lifestyle. Ricki’s other sons (Sebastian Stan, Nick Westrate) take her to task for her homophobic/racist comments. (Full disclosure: the film drops those issues pretty quickly.)

Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash

The Brummell family is clearly not lacking for drama, but while their squabbles are always present, they are nothing compared to Diablo Cody’s previous homecoming effort Young Adult. The film avoids the caustic tone present in Rachel Getting Married, but Demme does close in on the costs incurred for living Ricki’s lifestyle. In the wrong hands Ricki’s redemption could feel very forced, but with three-time Academy Award® winner Meryl Streep, those landmines are avoided. Family coming together is a narrative witnessed many times on film, but the real life relationship between Streep and Gummer adds a nice touch of authenticity. If anything holds Ricki and the Flash back, it’s that no one else can bring it like Meryl can.

It’s obvious Demme has an affection for music, and the song selections are all choice. Ricki and the Flash comes alive during the bookend musical scenes and the primary engine of that joy is Ms. Streep. Meryl Streep learned the guitar for her role, so the band isn’t just for show. Throw in a legitimate rock star like Rick Springfield and moviegoers will wonder why the entire film isn’t just Meryl rocking out for two hours. A delightful 20 minute finale will only confirm those suspicions.